"I've lived most of my life outside of America, largely in Japan and Thailand, both of which I think of as "home". My great passion is the traditional arts and environment of East Asia which I believe have so much to teach the world."

 
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TIMELINE

Early life

Growing up in a Navy family, I lived in many places, from Naples Italy (my first language was Italian), to Honolulu and Washington DC. My family came to Japan in 1964, and after that I came and went constantly for summers, vacations, and forth, eventually majoring in Japanese Studies at Yale.

I went on afterwards to do Chinese Studies at Oxford. In my final year there in 1977 I ran out of money, and seeing that I could earn £50 if I won a prize for an essay, I submitted one on the subject of Tibet, then (and now) a deep personal interest. This essay won the Oxford Chancellor's English Essay prize, the first time it had been awarded to an American. While it took another decade before I began writing again in earnest, this was the beginning of my writings, which today I think of as my main occupation.

When I finally finished college education, I took up a job in 1977 at the Oomoto Foundation in Kameoka, on the outskirts of Kyoto. For the next twenty years I helped to managed the Oomoto School of Traditional Japanese Arts, and also worked as translator for Oomoto and many other Japanese religious groups (Shinto and Buddhist) at world inter-religious conferences.

 
 
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Time in Japan

Oomoto

During the period that I was at Oomoto, I had great freedom to spend time away from the headquarters, giving me the chance to explore my interests in Kabuki, Calligraphy, Art Collecting and so forth, experiences which I wrote about in the book Lost Japan (1993 Japanese, 1996 English).

The art collecting began as a hobby (I started with old Edo-period printed books), but in time came to be an occupation when I found that I had become an art dealer. Today I continue to collect and sell Japanese paintings ans calligraphy, (see Fine Arts), expanding into Thai crafts and modern design, as well. In order to repair and mount the old scrolls and screens which I had collected, I set up a mounting studio, first in Kyoto, and now in Bangkok, Thailand. At the studio, we use glues, papers, and brocades from Japan, while the work is managed by an experienced Thai staff trained by a classical Kyoto mounter.

 
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Since 1984

Trammell Crow and Thailand

In 1984, there was a fateful meeting with Trammell Crow, founder and chairman of Trammell Crow Company, leading Dallas real estate developer. I began as advisor to Trammell's art collection, but later ended up managing the company's operations in Japan during the "bubble" years of the late 1980's and early 1990's. This background in business proved very helpful in writing my later book Dogs and Demons (2001 English, 2002 Japanese) which tried to combine a study of finance and the bureaucracy with cultural issues — to show that Japan's modern malaise arises from the same causes in all these fields.

My first trip to Thailand was in the mid 1970's as a student, but I began visiting in earnest in the late 1980's when I tried to get Trammell Crow Co to invest in Bangkok. I became so interested in the arts of Southeast Asia in general and Thailand in particular that in 1997 I moved my base from Kyoto to Bangkok. I now live about half the year in my home in Kameoka; and the other half in an apartment in Bangkok.In fact, since the "move" I've ended up spending even more time in Japan than I had before. The reason is that the issues in Dogs and Demons have now come center stage in Japan, and I'm now involved in many different activities: speaking at various events in Japan and elsewhere, and consulting for provincial Japanese towns and cities that want to improve their environment, Since 2004, I've restored about 25 houses in Kyoto, Iya Valley, Ojika Island (Nagasaki prefecture) etc, and I and my team are now working on similar projects in other towns.

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Meanwhile, I continue managing the Origin Program of Traditional Asian Arts. The Oomoto program was unique, and in the process of running it we developed a unique way of teaching traditional Japanese arts to modern people. After 1997 I revived the program outside Oomoto, and I now run the program in three places: as "Origin Program" in Bangkok and Chiangmai, Thailand (for Thai and Lanna traditional arts),and as the "Kyoto Program" in venues in and around Kyoto (for Japanese traditional arts).

My leisure time is spent listening to music, watching theater, and when I have time and a bottle of Shiraz wine and a good friend with me, then I spend an evening doing calligraphy. When just nine years old, I attended a school near Washington DC that introduced children to Chinese characters, and I fell in love with writing them. Ever since then I've been writing Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, and this is still my great joy.

 
...he has written probably the best single “guide” for a visitor to Bangkok, short- or long-term, who wants to be provoked into looking at the city as it is, not as it is often portrayed.
— Chris Baker, Bangkok Post
 
 
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Selected Publications

  • Jun 1977
    Essay: Thoughts on Mysticism and Explorers in Tibet, [E] Kailash (Kathmandu, Nepal). May 76, won the Oxford Chancellor's English Essay Prize (First American; prize won previously by Oscar Wilde)
     
  • Jun 1989
    Book: IMMORTAL IMAGES,the Jade Collection of Trammell Crow. [E]   Trammell Crow Admininistration (Dallas, Texas)
     

  • Aug 1991
    Translation: Edogawa Ranpo and Mishima Yukio's Black Lizard. [E]
     

  • Jul 1992 - present
    Articles in English. [E] Including: Newsweek, TIME, Sawasdii, Winds, Orientations, Kyoto Journal, Japan Times, Lonely Planet's Kyoto City Guide, etc.
     

  • Jul 1993
    Book: UTSUKUSHIKI NIHON NO ZANZO, [J] Publ: Shinchosha, Tokyo. , July 1993. Reissued as an Asahi Bunko paperback Sep 2000.
     

  • Apr 2001
    Book. DOGS & DEMONS, [E] Hill and Wang, New York.
    — Translation in Korean by Hong-Ik Publishing in Feb 2002
    — Translation in Chinese by CITIC, June 2006
     

  • Dec 2003
    Book: NIHON BURANDO" DE IKŌ [J] "Let's go with 'Brand Japan'" (Publ: Waytz, Tokyo, Dec 2003)
     

  • Jan 2010
    BANGKOK FOUND, [E] Publ: River Books, Bangkok
     

  • Sep 2014
    Book:  NIPPON KEIKANRON [J]  (“Theory of Japanese Landscape”),  Publ:  Shueisha (Tokyo)             本:『ニッポン景観論』 集英社新書 (東京)

  • Jun 1980
    Articles: Translation, and 5 articles on Kyoto for Clifton Karhu's Kyoto Rediscovered (Weatherhill Co., Tokyo) [E]
     

  • Jun 1989
    Book: IMMORTAL IMAGES,the Jade Collection of Trammell Crow. [E]   Trammell Crow Admininistration (Dallas, Texas)
     

  • Apr 1991
    Sections of Book: Kyoto and Nara sections for Insight Guide's Japan, APA Press, Singapore [E]
     

  • Jul 1992 - present
    Over 100 Articles in Japanese. [J] Including: 8-part series for Kyoto Shinbun Newspaper (Jul 92 - Jun 93), 24-part series for Sankei Shinbun Newspaper (Sep 94 - Mar 95), 15-part series for Shukan Shincho Mag. (Jul 93 - July 97), 3-part series for National Museum News (Jun 95), Newsweek Japan (Dec 2001, Dec 2003)
     

  • May 1996
    Book. LOST JAPAN, [E]. Publ: Lonely Planet Co., Melbourne, Australia. English version of UTSUKUSHIKI NIHON NO ZANZO.— Translations in Italian and Polish in 1999
     

  • May 2002
    Book: INU TO ONI. [J] Publ: Kodansha, Tokyo, May 2002. Translation into Japanese of DOGS AND DEMONS.
     

  • Nov 2006
    Book: LIVING IN JAPAN,[E], co-written with Kathy Sokol. 23 houses traditional and modern. Publ: Taschen (Köln, Germany)
     

  • Jul 2012
    Book:  SERYU NI SAKARAU [J]  (“Going Against the Tide of the Times”)  Publ:  Hokuseisha (Shimane) with Saeki Kaisho, Abbot of Joruriji Temple    本:『世流に逆らう』 浄瑠璃寺住所佐伯快勝と協著, 北星社(島根)
     

  • Sep 2016
    Book:  [E & J]  ANOTHER KYOTO, with Kathy Sokol.  Publ. Sekai Bunkasha, Tokyo.  Japanese title is: Mou Hitotsu no Kyoto .  本:『もう一つの京都』     世界文化社(東京)